Hungary and the Netherlands appear to be squaring off after outgoing Dutch ambassador Gajus Scheltema’s rather candid statements about Hungarian politics provoked Hungary’s foreign minister to threaten suspension of bilateral ties between the two countries.
Scheltema is going into retirement. He gave something of a farewell interview to weekly magazine 168 Óra (published Thursday morning), where he spoke quite frankly about how he sees the situation in Hungary:
- “Everything in Hungary is black and white. You are either on this side or that side of a particular issue, there is no middle ground, not even in politics. In the Netherlands, we always seek compromise: let’s have a little of this, a little of that. Our governing coalition has four or five parties — all of whom have to give a little. While it’s possible that negotiations last for months, they always find compromise. However, [in Hungary] there are only pro and con positions, you are either with us or against us. This is a classic Marxist worldview.”
- “Everyone is constantly researching their enemy in Hungary. This is what really resonates with the historical memory of the people. People have grown accustomed to the notion that if they do not agree with those in power, then they will immediately be considered as enemies.”
- “George Soros can be blamed for many things, just consider his activities as a speculator. At the same time, the fact that he has invested gigantic amounts of money helping build democracy and civil society is worthy of much respect. That is why all foreigners – to put it lightly – consider the Hungarian government’s extraordinarily intensive and aggressive attacks [against Soros] to be so strange.”
- “We must make a distinction between refugees and economic migrants. But the [Hungarian] government considers everyone to be a migrant, while not recognizing refugees. In other words, we are not speaking the same language. Furthermore, Hungary does not have migrants, it is a homogenous nation. In the Netherlands, primarily because of our colonial past, we have many immigrants, we have an open society, we welcome those who arrive to our country. It does not matter if that person is Hungarian or Indonesian. Absurdly, the Hungarian government’s [propaganda] campaign works because if the perceived danger is further away, it seems greater.”
- “An vehicle terror attack can happen anywhere. Most happen in the Middle East. So should we bomb the Middle East? Here is a group that has been a victim of globalization, that is why they are extremists, that is why they have become religious fanatics, because that it was gives them a sense of security. But they create enemies for themselves in the same manner as the Hungarian government.”
- On Hungary’s desire to not take part in a shared EU response to the refugee crisis: “This is a two-way street. You simply can’t have a situation where certain countries only profit from EU funds, but are not willing to contribute and assist in resolving the challenges that affect every other country. That is why the ‘Let’s Stop Brussels!’ campaign was so strange to the French and other embassies [in Budapest], because it attacked an organization that – aside from other things – was created to help your country. Furthermore, the 1,300 refugees Hungary would accept was not decided by Brussels, but by the European Council, as well the Member States. This entire thing is just cheap propaganda. And most Hungarians are aware of that.”
- On helping Hungary’s integration into the EU by supporting Hungarian civil society: “We have been eager to strengthen civil society, which includes organizations that are critical of the government. But we do this irrespective of what they think of the government. We do this because they do outstanding work. “
- On the recently adopted NGO-stigmatizing law requiring NGOs who receive foreign funding to register as such: “I told the leaders of several civil organizations that are attacked by the government to be proud that the government of Holland supports them. If the Hungarian government wants to cast the image that a foreign power or George Soros are using nontransparent financial maneuvers to support them, these organizations should say that this isn’t true. We really believe in the values that these organizations believe, and we know that they are genuinely concerned for the rights of minorities, media freedom, and a good number of democracy-related issues.”
- On the Hungarian media landscape: “It is true that the opportunities are shrinking and the ownership structures are changing. But what is more concerning is that the opposition simply does not have quality journalism, especially not in the realm of investigative journalism. I am always surprised by how shallow Hungarian investigative journalism is. It does not see the essence of the story, the final truth. If a Dutch investigative journalist writes about migration, they are likely to visit the camps, speak to migrants, police, mayors, and research statistics. Many of the Hungarian journalists I have met write superficial and unprepared stories. I know that politics has greatly intruded into the media, and it is also true that money is an important factor. Still, I expected that the [closure] of Népszabadság would strengthen the position of the other opposition newspapers.”
- Regarding news outlets without access to money: “It’s sad. Meanwhile, we see that the outlets that are stuffed with money are professionally ruined.”
- On how the Dutch perceive their taxpayer money being used in other EU Member States: “It is true that we are having an increasingly serious debate [in the Netherlands] regarding what is happening with our money. We cannot finance corruption, and we cannot keep corrupt systems alive. But we must continue to support the poorest regions [of the EU], this is called solidarity. Hungary still lags behind Western Europe economically, so we must help. But we must do so in a manner that satisfies both the Dutch and Hungarian people. The system must be made much more transparent, accountable, and supervisable. Currently, the money flows to the government, and they use that money to do whatever they want. That is what must be changed.”
- On the Hungarian government’s position that it will spend EU money as it sees fit: “How the Dutch taxpayers’ or any European taxpayer money is spent is not a [Hungarian] domestic issue.”
- On his access to high-level government officials: “Minister of the National Economy Mihály Varga is absolutely unreachable. But I have met frequently with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog, and Minister of Justice László Trócsányi. To put it diplomatically: I have seen countries where it is much easier to meet with decision-makers. Earlier, Prime Minister Orbán regularly held an annual meeting with the ambassadors, but that stopped a few years ago. It’s obvious that this is no longer important for him.”
- On the Hungarian government’s involvement in the dispute between the Csíki Beer Company and Heineken: “The Hungarian government turned a business issue into a political issue. But the issue became resolved when Heineken became the main sponsor of the Ferencváros football club.”
Needless to say, Scheltema’s remarks provoked Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó to respond with fire and fury.
“We are pleased that the Dutch ambassador is going home. Hopefully, he does this as soon as possible. Nobody should dare do anything like this against Hungary, against the Hungarian people!” Szijjártó reportedly said during a press conference Thursday.
At a separate press conference on Friday, Szijjártó announced that the Hungarian foreign ministry had recalled its ambassador to the Netherlands.
According to Szijjártó, Hungary will suspend its ambassadorial-level relations with the Netherlands, a move he called “the most radical step in diplomacy”. The two countries’ relations will be maintained in the future by their respective chargé d’affaires.
Szijjártó went on to accuse Scheltema of acting in utter disregard of diplomatic norms when he offended Hungary’s “dignity and sovereignty” with the statements he made in his interview with the weekly.
Hungary’s chargé d’affaires in the Netherlands has been ordered to visit the Dutch foreign ministry next Monday to personally reject what Szijjártó considers to be Scheltema’s slanderous and baseless statements, the foreign minister said.
Szijjártó also ordered Hungary’s chargé d’affaires to demand an answer on whether the Dutch ambassador’s statements were made on his own accord or with the consent of the Dutch foreign ministry.
“Hungary is not a punching bag,” Szijjártó declared. “If this is how the Dutch wish to continue with our bilateral relations, then this is how we will respond.”
Szijjártó said that if the Netherlands does not apologize for Scheltema’s statements, the Hungarian government will take further political and diplomatic steps.